Gioachino Rossini - Tancredi / Barcellona, Takova, Gimenez, Spotti, Frizza, Pizzi (Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino)
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Daniela Barcellona, Darina Takova, and Raul Gimenez star in this Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino production of the Rossini opera conducted by Riccardo Frizza.
" The top-tier cast is uniformly expert at Rossini style." -- Judith Malafronte
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The action is based very loosely on Torquato Tasso's poetic epic Gerusalemme Liberata, modified by Voltaire in 1760 in his tragedy "Tancrede" and further modified by librettist Gaetano Rossi for the young Rossini. The Norman knight Tancred has been exiled from Syracuse. His Love Amenaide, daughter of the duke Argirio, is courted by both the Syracusan Orbazzano and the saracen Solamiro, but she sustains her fidelity to Tancredi. A letter she sends him, pleading with him to save the city, falls into the wrong hands; Amenaide is denounced as a "traitor" and sentenced to death by her own father. Meanwhile Tancredi has sneaked into the city, accepts the false report that Amenaide ha betrayed him ... etc. As usual, the libretto is hardly more than an excuse for great music, to be sung virtuosically.
And virtuosically it is sung in this performance! There are two DVDs of Tancredi available, this one and a Schwetzingen Festival TV production from 1992, starring Bernadette Manca di Nissa as Tancredi and Maria Bayo as Amenaide. The earlier performance was quite satisfactory, but this one is better in a number of ways, not limited to technical matters of sound recording and film quality. Bayo totally overshadowed Manca di Nissa in sheer vocal artistry, but that shouldn't be so, since the role of Tancredi really is the centerpiece of the opera. Contralto Daniela Barcelona rose to stardom in the 1990s with her performance as Tancredi, which might be called her "signature" role. In thsi 2005 production, Barcellona's skills are finely balanced with those of soprano Darina Takova as Amenaide; their duets are exquisite, the best moments of the score. It's worth, I hope, climbing out on the reviewer's limb and declaring that a comparison of these two productions reveals indisputably how much more accomplished at "bel canto" ornamentation and phrasing the singers of "today" are than the singers of the last century. Bayo had a superb voice but her arias sound naked and bland in comparison to Takova's. Even a comparison of the two tenors singing the role of Argirio, Raul Gimenez in this interpretation, will demonstrate how much bel canto technique has been recovered and relearned under the impetus of "historically informed performance practices."
Contrary to common opinion, the role of Tancredi was NOT composed for a castrato. The contralto who premiered the role in 1813 was Adelaide Malanotte. Tancredi was always a "trousers role." I have to wonder, however, whether such trousers roles are still supportable in the era of filmed operas, both the "live broadcasts" in movie theaters that are generating new audiences for opera as well as DVDs. Daniella Barcelona is decidedly NOT cinema-worthy as Tancredi. She's a large busty woman, and no effort whatsoever went into giving her a "masculine" identity on stage, neither by costume nor by make-up. Why, she's wearing lipstick and eye-shadow, as one can't help but notice in close-ups. Actually, the acting in this production is so thoroughly old-fashioned and bluff that Barcelona seems only slightly less physically implausible than anyone else. Likewise the costuming -- seen from the second balcony it might seem picturesque, but in close-ups it's patently bargain-basement rummage stuff. But don't worry! The singing and the orchestra and the music per se are all good enough to make dramaturgy minor in importance.
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